Sir David Attenborough has reunited the families of two Jewish refugee sisters who were cared for during WWII by his parents.
Irene and Helga Bejah fled Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, aged thirteen and twelve, in August 1939, as part of the operation that brought 10,000 refugee children to Britain.
Their mother had died years before and their father was deported to Auschwitz. Another sister was too old to be eligible for the Kindertransport and was left behind but reportedly survived the Holocaust.
Mary and Frederick Attenborough took in the girls, who lived with them and their three sons in Leicester for seven years and became like “sisters” to Sir David and his two brothers.
One of the brothers, Richard, the late filmmaker who became Lord Attenborough, also commented in the past how his mother involved her sons in the decision to take in the girls, knowing that it might impact the attention that she was able to give them. “My parents,” he said, “always stood up and were counted wherever they saw an injustice being done.”
After the War, the sisters moved to New York City to join their uncle.
Sir David has now revealed that last July he hosted a reunion for the sisters’ descendants, describing it as “an unforgettable afternoon” and saying “it’s a credit to my parents”.
Helga’s daughter, said: “I think the gravity of the visit really didn’t hit me or David until we were saying goodbye and hugging, because he was very modest and saying, ‘It’s really my parents’, and was not taking any type of accolade or responsibility. I think when he looked at all of us leaving, it hit him that we would probably not have existed if it was not for the humanitarian kindness of his family.”
Helga’s daughters have reportedly left her diaries, letters and other personal papers on long-term loan to Leicester University, in order to ensure that the Attenborough family’s act is recorded for posterity.
The two sisters have died, but their elder sister is reportedly alive, at 99 years old.